Saturday, October 6, 2012

What is historical proof? A personal shock.

In late September, going through the Goldwater congressional papers stored in Arizona State University's Hayden Library, I found the sheet on which attendees had written their names at the January 29, 1973 meeting in Goldwater's home. 

My memories of this meeting are vivid, from sitting next to McComb, to the sense of overall disappointment I wrote about in my journal entry, to the rebuff John & I got from Terry Emerson when we went up to him at the meeting's end to offer our help.

As I read the list of names on the sign-up sheet, once, and again and again, I did not see my name. Literally, the proof of my attendance was not there. 

Did I dream it all? Is the past only a matter of constructed pseudo-memories? Should some historian ever try to piece together how Goldwater and advocates for a complete Park came to dagger-points, will I fail to figure? 

This is not the first area about which I have had such musings. In recent interviews, I have also pondered whether what I remember could be corroborated, either by physical evidence or other participants, and in some cases concluded that even my strongest memories may have no other support.

Here is another story connecting my comments above with those that follow:

I have remembered all these years that John & I met with Bruce Babbitt about the Navajo position on the Goldwater bill; at the time, 1972, he was an attorney in the firm that was counsel for the Navajo.
When I recently read my journal entry from that time, I had written that we talked with him about the ... Havasupai!
I happened to mention this 1972 meeting to Babbitt when I interviewed him (see below). He quickly corrected me, saying it was the Navajo he represented -- just as I remembered; not the Havasupai as my journal entry said.
I went back and re-read the journal, and concluded based on the content of what we talked about that yes, back in 1972, I had written the wrong tribe!
Memory or written record; could old Henry have been right—History IS bunk? 

In my September 27th interview (more on that later) with former Interior Secretary Babbitt about the creation of Grand Canyon - Parashant National Monument in 1998-2000, I recorded this comment of his:  "I am getting senile; I have no memory of this stuff at all." 
I am glad I have lots of supporting materials for the memories offered by this decidedly non-senile exemplar of public service. 

Otherwise, would it all just evaporate, like a digested madeleine?

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